These days with Europe groaning under a mountain of debt, Turks are trying not to gloat. For years, Turkey's been trying to join the European Union. Now, the country's economy is so healthy some Turks joke, it's the EU that should join Turkey. But as NPR's Peter Kenyon tells us in this letter from Istanbul, Europe's debt crisis could easily spill over in Turkey's direction.


PETER KENYON, BYLINE: As he prepares for the midday rush, Mustafa Baljan puts the finishing touches on the kebabs, salads and stews that make up many a working Turk's lunch. As the steam carries the scent of lamb and garlic into the street, the 37-year-old restaurant owner considers a popular question. With European economies on the ropes, should Turkey still be seeking to join the EU?

MUSTAFA BALJAN: (Through Translator) Are you kidding? Of course I don't want to join. Countries are going bankrupt. Why would we want to join a union like that?

KENYON: Having been snubbed from Brussels to Barcelona, Turks may well be looking at their own GDP perking right along and smiling behind their mustaches at the economic ash clouds hovering over various corners of Europe. Take Greece, for instance, something Turks have done more than once. You might say that Turkey and Greece have a robustly competitive relationship.

You might also say the Hatfields had a few reservations about the McCoys. As a retired U.S. diplomat once observed, Greece and Turkey are the only NATO allies whose national days celebrate victory over each other. For many Turks, Greece's entry into the Eurozone in 2000, while Turkey's own EU bid languished, was a slap that carried an especially bitter sting.

So while Greeks today writhe under the weight of painful austerity measures and some European analysts snarl that maybe Greece never really belonged in the club anyway, the immediate reaction of Turks, like marketing specialist Harika Eren, is not one of neighborly sympathy.

HARIKA EREN: I think Greece deserves that. Yes, I'm sorry. I'm not racist, but Greece deserves that.

KENYON: Analysts say Turks would do well to stifle the schadenfreude, however, because the EU remains Turkey's largest and most important trading partner. That's why economist Daron Acemoglu at the MIT says the Eurozone debt crisis is a ticking time bomb for Turkey.

DARON ACEMOGLU: And the situation for Turkey is critical at some level, because Turkey is in the midst of a very large current account deficit. And it's already brought its interest rates down, so it doesn't have much room for maneuver if things start going bad.

KENYON: At some level, many Turks do realize that in today's world, economic pain can spread just as fast as gain. But for the moment, they don't mind taking a page from the British and thinking, well, glad we didn't join that club. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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